A Bloody Hot Summer in Gaza: Parallels With Sharpeville, Soweto and Jallianwala Bagh

CounterPunch

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It is a bloody hot summer in Gaza. And the events surrounding the killings of nearly 60 Palestinians and wounding of more than a thousand by the Israeli army on the day Israel and the Trump administration celebrated the relocation of the American embassy to Jerusalem are as shocking as they are of profound importance in Middle Eastern history. The one-sided nature of the encounter is illustrated by the fact that there were no casualties on the Israeli side.

Scenes of Palestinian men and women of all ages, barely armed with stones and burning tyres in a futile attempt to form a protective shield, were reminiscent of the massacres in Sharpeville and Soweto townships in apartheid South Africa in 1960 and 1976 respectively and the Jallianwala Bagh in India under British colonial rule in 1919.

These are three of the most infamous acts written in blood in history. But the truth is that when these massacres were committed, reaction was one of suppressed rage and resignation.

During the Cold War, the West viewed South Africa’s apartheid regime as a convenient bulwark against the expansion of Soviet influence. The African National Congress and its leaders were “terrorists”. In Sharpeville, the South African Police fired on a black crowd demonstrating against “pass laws” designed to control movement of people of other races. In the massacre which took place outside a police station, 69 black people were killed and nearly 300 injured.

The African National Congress and the Pan-Africanist Congress were accused of inciting violence and were outlawed. Both organizations went on to shift from passive resistance and formed a military wing to start a low-level armed struggle against the apartheid government. Today, 21 March is commemorated as Human Rights Day in democratic South Africa.

The Soweto uprising, led by black schoolchildren, began on 16 June 1976 after the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in schools. An estimated 20,000 students took part in demonstrations. Official figures spoke of 176 killed, but estimates of up to 700 deaths have been made. Stories of the Soweto killings are forever written in history. The Soweto massacre is commemorated on 16 June every year as Youth Day in South Africa.

The ANC remained outlawed as a terrorist organization, but its leading role in the anti-apartheid struggle was established after the Soweto uprising. Far from losing support, the ANC gained popularity among young South Africans, even though Western governments continued to shun the movement.

Immediately after the First World War nearly a century ago, a massacre ordered by Colonel Reginald Dyer, an army officer in British-ruled India, took the lives of hundreds of Indians in the city of Amritsar. It was 13 April 1919 and several thousand had gathered in Jallianwala Bagh near the Sikh Golden Temple.

The crowd began to demonstrate against the arrest and deportation of two Indian nationalist leaders. The protest, in defiance of Colonel Dyer’s order, enraged him. He ordered his troops to fire on unarmed protestors. The shooting continued until the troops had almost run out of ammunition. Official figures spoke of 379 dead and about 1,100 injured. Estimates by the Indian National Congress were of approximately 1,000 killed and 1,500 wounded. Colonel Dyer himself admitted that a total of 1,650 rounds were fired.

The Jallianwala Bagh massacre is seen by historians as the beginning of an unrelenting nationalist movement. Finally, the British withdrew from India in 1947.

The carnage in Gaza resembles massacres of historic proportions like those in Sharpeville, Soweto and Amritsar’s Jallianwala Bagh. They took place because provocative and wilful decisions taken by powerful rulers triggered rage which brought people out. And then those very same rulers used brute force to suppress the protests.

In Gaza, the worst of the carnage was on the day the American embassy was moved to Jerusalem, the city which Palestinians regard as their capital. President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate the embassy was the spark that ignited the fire.

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That decision was incendiary, but only part of the crisis. Let us make no mistake about it. Gaza is a huge refugee camp of two million Palestinians living in appalling conditions within a short distance of the villages, now in Israel, from where their ancestors were expelled seventy years ago. Gaza is a cage under land, air and sea blockade by Israel and Egypt collaborating with each other since 2007. The blockade itself is an act of war.

The effects of this blockade are truly awful. Population density in Gaza is more than 13,000 per square mile. Ninety-five percent of water there is undrinkable. Electricity is available only for about four hours a day. Just under half of Gazans are unemployed. The same proportion of children suffer from anaemia and say they have no will to live. The population has no freedom of movement.

The crushing blockade and frequent Israeli attacks mean that the two million Palestinians are victims of war by an overwhelming power. And as victims they have a right of self-defence.

Not surprisingly, the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights has decided to launch a war crimes inquiry into the Gaza carnage. Israel, certain of unqualified support from President Trump, insists that it will not cooperate with the inquiry. There are some who assert that Israel as a sovereign state has absolute right to use whatever force it regards as “necessary.”

The United States has already vetoed a critical resolution in the UN Security Council, where the American ambassador, Nikki Haley, made the astonishing assertion that Israel had acted with “restraint”.

As the carnage was taking place in Gaza, the new American embassy in Jerusalem was being inaugurated. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described it as a “glorious day.” Thanking President Trump, Netanyahu said, “By recognizing history, you have made history.” And representing the United States President at the ceremony in Jerusalem, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, pronounced that “those provoking violence are part of the problem, not part of the solution.”

As it goes with all massacres, their justifications become more and more depraved as self-interest and hatred of others come to dominate mindset.

(Erratum: Line 1, paragraph 8, had “Second World War”. It has been corrected to read “First World War”.) 

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The United Kingdom in 2017: Divided, Scandalised and Lost

The Citizen

In 2017, the United Kingdom continued to experience the trauma of the previous year’s referendum on the country’s membership of the European Union. The advisory referendum in 2016 had split the country almost evenly. A year on, divisions brought out into the open have started to work through. We are witnessing the economic and social aftershocks of the earthquake which the narrow victory for leaving the EU produced. A new battle for Brexit is on.

Schisms are around us to see. Between those who want the UK to remain integrated with the rest of Europe — and those with a fanatical determination to disengage from Europe in all but trade. Europhiles, on the one hand, are nervous about becoming too dependent on the United States as President Donald Trump reshapes America in his own vision. Fervent Eurosceptics, on the other, have no qualms about that prospect. Voices of reason are often drowned in the shrill and narrow nationalist rhetoric of a disorderly group claiming to have a majority, albeit small, behind them.

Often described as “Remoaners”, “traitors” and “enemies of the people” by Brexiteers and the right-wing press owned by media tycoons, onetime pro-EU Britons are becoming resigned to the inevitability of the country leaving the European Union. British businesses, anxious about the prospect of tariffs and long queues at border points, have been warning the government repeatedly. The UK currency has declined sharply since the 2016 referendum. Economic growth, too, is declining as migrant workers from Eastern Europe leave Britain in significant numbers.

Foreign companies such as Honda, Nissan, Toyota and BMW, banks and financial services, are making contingency plans to relocate before the United Kingdom leaves the EU on 29 March 2019 if no free trade agreement appears in sight by the exit date. But negotiations, which normally take years, are not expected to begin at least until the end of March 2018.

The British negotiating team has just completed the first phase of talks with the European Union. The aim was to finalise a deal on three major issues: the UK’s financial settlement when it leaves; the status of open border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, and the Irish Republic, an independent country within the EU; and protection of the rights of EU citizens in the UK as well as UK citizens in the 27 other EU countries.

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Brexit Secretary David Davis

No sooner than the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced the agreement paving the way for the second phase in which complex trade negotiations could start, the Brexit Secretary, David Davis, said that promises made by the UK in just concluded talks were “not legally binding” and they were “meaningless”. His remarks made the remaining EU 27 members furious, for it meant a lack of good faith to the EU and perhaps the rest of the world.

The boast of Brexiteers since the 2016 EU referendum that “we will have our cake and eat it” has caused anger throughout Europe. Too many in the British government, in Parliament and the populace remain oblivious to the unalterable geographical fact that the United Kingdom is surrounded by EU countries and these countries remain united in their approach to Brexit.

Sharp divisions afflict the United Kingdom. Prime Minister Theresa May’s full cabinet rarely has discussions on government policy or the final destination when the country leaves the EU. Ministers express their disagreements openly in the public. Individuals freely announce what looks like policy without consulting others in government, sometimes to be rebuked by the Prime Minister.

Her cabinet is dogged by allegations of sexual misconduct. The Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, was forced to resign for “falling short of acceptable standards”. The International Development Secretary, Priti Patel, resigned after holding a series of unauthorized meetings with Israeli officials during a private “holiday” visit. Most recently, a third minister, Damian Green, has also resigned after an official investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct found that he had breached the ministerial code.

Theresa May’s Conservative Party MPs are uneasy about the high degree of control exercised by a right-wing minority of Brexiteers and 10 MPs of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland sustaining her in power. In early December, a small number of Conservative MPs rebelled. They voted against a clause of the EU Withdrawal Bill that would have given ministers sweeping powers to change laws without parliamentary approval.

Despite every conceivable tactic to entice, cajole and pressure those threatening to oppose, the government was defeated. Since that vote, rebel MPs have received death threats which are a matter for police investigation. Parliament regained power to scrutinise the terms of any withdrawal agreement negotiated with the EU. The opposition Labour Party is purposely vague about what kind of relationship it wants with the European Union after exit for fear of losing votes among both supporters and opponents of EU membership at the next general election.

The Brexit referendum whipped up a lot of hostility against immigrants. Crime statistics show a marked increase in attacks against, and harassment of, ethnic minorities such as Muslims and people of East European backgrounds. Angry Brexit nationalists and white supremacists tell those who do not look English, or who speak a foreign language, are told to “go back to your country”.

Under-the-surface tensions have always existed in British society and erupt from time to time. Following the referendum, unrestrained chauvinism, including official threats to make the environment hostile for immigrants, are becoming accepted norms. As the political debate degenerates, courts and European human rights instruments are left to serve as the main bulwark against further descent.

Steve Bell in the Guardian

A country in crisis due to political failures often tends to evoke the past and embark on a journey to imagined greatness once again. When those dreams are not realised, anger and frustration follow. As the United Kingdom approaches the New Year, the country is at that point. For a small country of 65 million, with about 150000 active military personnel in total, including a navy and an air force of some 30000 active personnel each, the Brexiteers’ vision of Britannia ruling the waves means having to carry heavy load indeed.

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Sex, Lies and Incompetence: Britain’s Ruling Establishment in Crisis

CounterPunch 

Photo: BBC

Barely five months after a general election in the United Kingdom, the government of Prime Minister Theresa May looks doomed. It could fall any day, next week or next month. Within her Conservative Party and elsewhere in the United Kingdom, in other European countries and beyond, speculation is rife that Theresa May’s days in office may be numbered. Scandals involving sex, lies and incompetence unfold day after day. The rot has set in at the heart of Britain’s power centre.

As the deadline for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union (March 29, 2019) approaches, rival factions in the government and the Conservative parliamentary party are engaged in fierce battles over what kind of Brexit they want. Once a Conservative Member of Parliament and now a distinguished commentator, Matthew Parris, says, “The sooner Theresa May goes, the better.”

Ministers operate like freelance diplomats and traders, not like members of a cabinet which has collective responsibility, without reference to the protocol and the Prime Minister’s Office. Claims of sexual misconduct by politicians of various parties, but more seriously by ministers, abound. Allegations of groping have ended the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon’s career, after his confession that at times his behaviour had fallen short. And the First Secretary of State (in effect deputy prime minister), Damian Green, has been accused by a much younger woman activist, Kate Maltby, of making sexual advances and sending “suggestive” text messages to her. These accounts are widely reported in the media.

Further, there are claims, backed by a former senior police officer, that pornography was discovered on Damian Green’s office computer some years ago. He denies the allegations, and the Prime Minister has ordered an investigation. But, unlike Michael Fallon, Damian Green remains in his post.

Sleaze at the heart of power goes back to the time when Theresa May’s predecessor, David Cameron, was in office. A well-known television producer, Daisy Goodwin, has alleged that she was groped by a staff member in the then Prime Minister David Cameron’s official residence. According to Goodwin, when she challenged the man who was much younger than her, he dropped his hand from her breast and laughed nervously. Ex-Prime Minister Cameron now says he is “alarmed, shocked and concerned.”

Photo: Canary.co

At the same time, it emerged that another minister, the International Development Secretary Priti Patel, went on “holiday” to Israel and held 12 meetings with Israeli officials, including the Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. First, Patel said that she had informed the Foreign Office about her visit. It turned out that she had not. She apologised and was let off the hook. Then, news leaked out that she had had more meetings with Israeli officials and had not declared them. That was too much. Priti Patel was summoned back to London from a visit to Africa and left the Cabinet soon after.

Leaks also revealed that Patel had visited the occupied (Syrian) Golan Heights. She inspected an Israeli army hospital where Syrian “refugees” and anti-Assad rebels are treated. And she was in talks about ways to divert British foreign aid to the Israeli army. The United Kingdom does not recognise Israeli control in occupied Arab territories. British ministers do not visit those areas. When they do they have to maintain a strict protocol and meet Palestinian as well as Israeli officials to give the appearance of balance. The International Development Secretary broke all the rules.

Theresa May’s minority government is beset by crises of its own making. Having supported the option to stay in the European Union in the 2016 EU referendum, she has become a fervent Leaver since becoming Prime Minister. And her calculations have gone badly wrong. She called a general election in June 2017, dead certain of winning a big majority in Parliament and thereafter doing what she liked in exiting the EU and shaping the country in her own post-Brexit vision. Instead, she lost her majority in Parliament. A number of sitting MPs of her party were defeated. She snatched defeat from the jaws of victory many in her party had anticipated.

Now, she barely governs as head of a Conservative minority government. She is sustained in office by 10 MPs of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party which has promised to support her in any motion of confidence. She has bought the DUP’s support with a billion pound additional funding for Northern Ireland. But the deal has raised serious questions over the British government’s impartiality in the peace process and power-sharing between the province’s Catholic and Protestant communities that ended decades of conflict in April 1998.

In her party, Theresa May’s position is made even more precarious by about 35 hard-line MPs who would not accept any compromise in forging a new relationship with the European Union. Since triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty in March 2017 to exit the European Union, she is under relentless pressure from these uncompromising anti-EU MPs to make no concessions to the other side. Whether it is about paying the exit fee to meet the UK’s commitments to current EU projects and pension liabilities etc., accepting the EU requirement of four freedoms (movement of goods, services, capital, people) in a future trade relationship or the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice for settling disputes between the UK and the EU.

A number of her MPs want the British government to simply walk away from the talks, arguing that it will be the EU that will come back to negotiate trade with the United Kingdom. Others want a soft Brexit and trading as open as possible thereafter. Still others insist that the UK must leave the EU in March 2019, and any transition arrangement must be as short as possible.

In a leaked secret letter setting out their terms of exit, the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, and the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, have written to the Prime Minister that after the UK ceases to be a member of the EU in March 2019, any transition period must end precisely on the last day of June 2021. Writing in the Guardian, the newspaper’s political columnist Rafael Behr called it ego-wrestling in the British cabinet. The Prime Minister can neither sack Boris Johnson nor Michael Gove, because by doing so she will risk bringing down her government.

The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, has a history of making off-the-cough remarks, a bumbling style and public buffoonery. Currently, he is in serious trouble following his careless, and false, comments before a parliamentary select committee. Speaking about Iran and a British-Iranian dual citizen being held in jail on accusations of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government, the Foreign Secretary said that the woman was only teaching journalism there. Actually she had gone to see her elderly parents and was arrested by Revolutionary Guards as she was about to board a flight to return to Britain.

The Iranian authorities jumped on Johnson’s comments, claiming that his remarks proved that the woman was guilty, and are threatening to double her five-year jail sentence. In prison, Nazanin Zaghary-Radcliffe’s health is declining. Her daughter is being looked after by her parents while her British husband, Richard Radcliffe, battles to get them back home. For several days, Boris Johnson resisted calls to apologise for making a false statement which has caused a British family a lot of trouble. Finally, he did apologise, but the woman’s fate remains in the hands of the Iranian authorities.

So, the government of Theresa May stumbles from crisis to crisis as the United Kingdom approaches exit from the European Union, the biggest trading bloc which surrounds it.

When she succeeded David Cameron as Prime Minister in July 2016, many people had assumed that she would be a safe pair of hands. However, her actions, her dependence on a small number of advisers personally loyal to her and her inability to win the party’s and people’s confidence have proved otherwise. In the midst of scandals involving sex, lies and ineptitude at the highest level of her government, she now fights for her own political survival as Parliament scrutinises the EU Withdrawal Bill.

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